Interview with body confidence artist, Jazmine Saunders!
To kick-start the year, Britain Uncovered is speaking with contemporary fine artist, Jazmine Saunders! In addition to hearing all about the body confidence project the artist has been working on over the past year, we're also discussing Jazmine's unique perspectives on body image, her motivations for painting people's naked mirror selfies, and the reasons why she's enjoying being a part of the body positivity movement!
Britain Uncovered: Hi Jazmine! The term ‘body confidence’ is something that can mean lots of different things to different people, but how do you personally interpret the phrase – and would you consider yourself to be a body confident person by and large?
Jazmine: To me, I don’t view body confidence as being big-headed or vain; instead, it’s about being proud of who you truly are, while working on your health on the inside and out. Body confidence is about self-perception and an appreciation for what you have, while you have it, and it also means feeling secure in yourself enough to be grateful for the body you have been born with – all the while working on your self-care, personal hygiene and levels of fitness while practicing self-love (which can be harder for people with mental health issues).
At large, I am a confident person as far as body confidence goes. I have worked hard on my level of self-love and body health to get it to where I feel confident, especially after having two children and two C-sections, going up and down in weight, and being diagnosed with fibromyalgia and gluten intolerance. I've had to go on a long journey to figure out what works for me and what makes me feel good, to a point I no longer worry too much about fitting into today’s beauty standards expected of women. I am just happy I'm not in pain day-to-day, because I have learnt strategies to help my health and spirituality, physically and mentally.
BU: Why do you think you are you so passionate about promoting the themes of spirituality, mental health and body confidence through your art, and how important do you feel body confidence is as it relates to a good sense of mental well-being?
Jazmine: My passion to work on myself spiritually and mentally first came about when I had my children. I wished to give them a happy childhood away from negative self-belief and ridiculously high beauty standards so that they can be equipped with the skills to love themselves before being overexposed to social media (which I can only hope won't affect them as they grow into adults, as much as it has the power to).
I have a unique perspective on life because I have worked as a carer through end-of-life care, and as a teaching assistant with children and adults of all ages – and with people who have different needs. These people have had to accept they are not like others and often have very low self-esteem, but I have also met a few people with disfigurements that have the best sense of self, which I fully admired.
We have people of all genders that hate themselves for not having the right shaped eyebrows, while being overweight is frowned upon in society and so much time is wasted on self-hate. So let me be matter of fact: we are born, we grow old, and we die. In between that we must make a life for ourselves, despite being force-fed trends and being bombarded with products to make us look, smell and feel like we fit in. But I discovered that body image is something we cannot buy; instead it’s something we can hope to discover as we grow up trying to figure out who we are.
Social media has moments of extreme toxicity, making people feel they need to follow the latest trends to fit into a standard of beauty that not everyone fits into. But if you don't fit in to this standard, what are you supposed to do? Hide, feel like a reject and just be miserable? No thank you!
BU: At the start of 2022 you launched a new body confidence project designed to promote a positive self-image, and you were busy painting models of all genders throughout the year! What was the concept behind this particular project, and how does it tie in with all the other work you’re doing in the realm of spirituality and mental health?
Jazmine: I wanted to do something positive and expand my painting skills in a new way, away from landscapes. I hadn’t actually painted people like this before, and I didn't expect it to be so engaging.
I make mixed media art, practicing body casting from life in plaster, metal-welded sculptures and painting whatever I feel like at the time. Through studying sculpture at university, I created many sculptures of real bodies mixed with the theme of intertwining humans with nature as an experiment, but had never before painted a body onto a canvas. I have done parts of the odd portrait here and there, but nothing like this, with real people and real stories. It made sense for my painting practice to evolve, and it felt like a natural progression.
My first model was myself. I took a naked picture of my back and imagined myself meditating on the beach. The body confidence element felt great and empowering, but I needed to find a way to tie my work together with my spiritual series, so I also painted a tattoo of the flower eyes I created as part of the spirituality concept. From there, it ignited a new project idea to continue painting people, but I wasn't sure if anyone would be up for it. To my surprise, my friend volunteered, then another, and then even people I hadn’t met in person before did so too; and I started believing this new project could become something special.
I was inspired by other body positive artists, but I wanted to step away from more traditional ways of painting by adding a modern twist and putting my own stamp on it.
BU: How would you say the project has evolved since you first started on it, and what are you still hoping to achieve with the project as it moves into its next phase?
Jazmine: The project started as an experiment and bloomed into a real and empowering example of people supporting each other. I feel good knowing that people have taken it so well, and they seem to be engaging with it as I intended it to be about empowerment.
I have someone aiding me in applying for the funding side to this project: to cover the cost of putting on an exhibition; to get a website made; all the frames; and a photographer to get top-quality images for print and to further progress to make this an ongoing project. So, answering these questions will really help with getting the proposal together for that also, and it shows that I'm taking it as an opportunity to really be involved as an artist in the body positivity movement.
BU: How do you feel this particular project is able to help people feel more positively about themselves and their bodies, and do you feel as though seeing ourselves as works of art enables us to perceive ourselves in a different, more favourable light?
Jazmine: People love a filter! Although painting a person isn’t using a filter, it’s similar to one. I’m not painting the features of the face, so it creates a different perspective of how you see yourself. There is a feel-good factor though, because I'm not focusing on flaws, and I'm instead focusing on the shape, tone and colours of the human body – but with this modern way of us looking at ourselves through a phone camera lens.
I feel like I am able to create this feel-good factor through making people a work of art using real paint, rather than just a digital rendition that any app can create. These are completely unique, even down to the background colour which I ask my participants to choose (so that they become personally involved in the overall outcome).
BU: You mentioned above that for the reference images, you’re asking your models to take selfies in the mirror using their mobile phones. What prompted you to choose this as the concept, and what is the significance and importance of this type of pose?
Jazmine: It is my way of putting a modern twist on the old style of traditional portraits. The idea behind mirror selfies is that the image becomes a reverse, inverted image that is more of a true image of yourself. There is a concept that if you hold two mirrors in front of you with the edges touching, like an open book, supposedly you see yourself as others see you – but you can never truly know what you look like. So this is the closest way you can see yourself as others see you.
A lot of people tend to dislike the photos of themselves taken by other people, so to kick-start the idea of self-love and the body confidence journey, I ask that the image sent to me to paint is one that the model not only likes of themselves, but one they have taken of themselves too. They have to pick the pose, the angle and the lighting, and all I ask is that the image makes them feel good in that moment.
BU: In addition to your paintings, each candidate also submits a testimonial describing their body confidence journey and the overall relationship they have had with their bodies through the years. How powerful is it to read through each of these statements, and have you noticed any recurring themes across these testimonials?
Jazmine: I have been surprised by the level of bravery of baring all and in being free enough to share their journey with me and with the people who engage with my Instagram. It is very inspiring to me, as an artist, and that has given me a real sense of achievement in my art practice. I feel I have come a long way, not just with my own body confidence, but with my overall confidence in my abilities as an artist. The recurring theme has been how each person has found their own sense of empowerment by taking part.
BU: Would you say that your own views and attitudes towards body confidence matters have shifted in any way since you first embarked on the project nearly one year ago? If so, in what ways?
Jazmine: I still have moments where I feel like a blob; there are days that aren’t great hair days, and other days where I've not had time to put as much effort in as I would have liked to – but I don’t beat myself up about it anymore.
Ten years ago, I had a man say to me, “You like to be more casual, but if you made an effort, you'd be worth looking at.” That is something that ran through my mind for a long time and I felt pressured to be prettier. I'm sure it wasn't said in a mean way, but it really felt like it was very backhanded at the time. I guess it also pushed me to take a harder look at myself and see I wasn’t ever really thinking of myself. So, it was also a push in the right direction to this self-care journey.
I've also read a great book called The Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolf, and it opened my eyes more to feminism. Women have had to fight throughout history, being visual objects for the gratification of men! Why not be an object to gratify yourself?
For the last few years, while creating body casts from life models while studying sculpture at university to now painting them, I see so much more than just a body, and everyone really is different in so many ways – from the length of the legs to the size of the wrists. I not only see myself in a more positive light since hearing other people's journeys, I also feel that I'm not alone in dealing with those moments of low self-esteem.
BU: What do you think your participants most enjoy about these collaborations for your body confidence project, and what are they seeking to take away from their involvement, in your opinion? What type of reactions have you had from your muses after they’ve seen your artwork of them?
Jazmine: No one has seen their painting in person yet – they have only seen themselves through a screen on my Instagram page. So it will be really amazing to see their first-hand reactions. So far, they have given really positive reactions and said how beautiful they are and how it’s given them something to feel good about, and they have thanked me for the experience. I would like to showcase these works in an exhibition and to be able to let people speak about their stories with each other and guests if they wish to, to create a platform and to be a part of the body positive movement.
BU: What are some of the most challenging elements of working on a project like this?
Jazmine: Getting the proportions right and matching skin tones to an image that I've had to adjust the lighting on to be able to print. The first few paintings I copied from my mobile phone and when I zoomed in the images were blurry, so I had to do a lot of guesswork. I quickly realised that the tattoos needed detailed work and I started asking people to send separate, close-up images with their main image, and it started getting easier to work with from there on.
Another challenge is getting more men to take part. I've had really confident men come forward, but there isn't a huge demand for guys that want a portrait of themselves. Getting more men to take part and overcome any prenotions of it not being a ‘man's thing to do’ would be something I'd like to achieve, as men also have body image issues – some more so than women – but they feel they cannot talk about that kind of thing as it's not for men.
BU: For various reasons, many body positivity artists exclude men from their work, but we really like that you have chosen to include people of all genders – as anyone and everyone can suffer from body confidence issues. Was this a conscious decision on your part, and do you think it helps empower men when they see more relatable body types, such as those shown in your depictions?
Jazmine: The first one I created was a man. I mostly saw other body positive artists focusing on women, and I wanted to mix things up and paint people of all genders, sizes and orientations. And real people, not just a gender! Men are thrown at just as much as women – they feel they have to look a certain way and if they don't, they are not good enough; leading to mental health issues about body image that aren’t just made for women. Men have a higher suicide rate because they have been raised to not show their vulnerability.
The men that have modelled for this project have been men with a great deal of confidence already. They all work hard, do life their way and are pretty carefree, but they all have responsibilities in some way and have mostly overcome their body issues by working out regularly to maintain a healthy body image, which is something I admire – and I was pleased to have them sign up for the project.
BU: How many more paintings are you seeking to create in this project, and what are you hoping the legacy of this project will be once it’s eventually complete?
Jazmine: I am hoping to create up to 50 or more paintings, and am hoping to become a great figure painter. Learning about skin tones, bodies of all shapes and sizes, and spreading awareness of self-love from people’s collective and unique journeys – in the hope that others reading about the journeys are inspired to discover more about their own self-care – is all part of the practice for me.
People are told they have to love themselves before they can love others, and so many of us ‘fake it to make it’ - but that's not true self-awareness, that’s just auto-pilot. Let's work on that and not continue being stuck on auto just to get by.
BU: Although you work primarily from reference images, what are your thoughts on the numerous life drawing classes popping up across the country? Do you feel as those can also be a force for good in helping us to come to terms with our bodies – both from the models’ and attendees’ points of view – and do you feel as though social nudity events in general are a good way of helping people to accept and embrace their bodies?
Jazmine: I really enjoyed the nudity life drawing classes I have attended in the past. I think it empowers you as a model and artist to look at the figure from different angles, and the classes make you feel more free to bare all in a natural state and show what you’ve got, while you’ve got it. I think life classes are all about the experience, and having people draw you and study you is a quick and effective way of practicing your skills. When you are the model, you have a chance to let it all hang out and fully embrace freedom. It’s a unique experience.
BU: Will you continue promoting body confidence in your subsequent projects, and if so, do you have any specific ideas up your sleeve as yet?
Jazmine: I would like to continue promoting body confidence for as long as possible as I grow and change, even when it's time to go through menopause (which I’m not looking forward to, but will embrace). You never know, I may start another body series when that time comes.
I’d like to play more with sculpture along with more body casting projects, and it would be amazing to keep working on (and building up) my portfolio using real people. I have more metal work ideas starting to form too, but for now I'm putting my focus on this project and seeing where it leads me.
BU: What can you tell us about your body casting work, and what are some of the objectives when you set about these types of creations? Is it simply the case that you enjoy experimenting with new themes, materials and ideas? We really loved the pregnancy belly cast you made, and it must be something that the recipient really treasures!
Jazmine: Absolutely. They are made bespoke to each recipient, so it means a great deal to them. One of the lady’s babies is now a year old, and I've asked her what she will do with the pregnancy belly cast, and she said she will keep it forever because it's covered in glitter and she loves that it was made to her specifications. It was her last baby bump and it's a very special moment in her life which brings her joy. It's amazing to me to be able to give her that.
Body casting is more physically challenging, and the way in which I'm creating work is based on the process. I enjoy experimenting, and letting my art practice form organically. I'm making art for arts’ sake most of the time because it’s natural to me. From time to time I get a really good idea and create a longer term project out of it to give me focus and clarity.
BU: What advice might you give to someone who is perhaps struggling with their self-image and body confidence levels at present, and are there any specific strategies or methods that have helped you personally during times when you’re not perhaps feeling as positive as you’d like to?
Jazmine: Own your own skin! You will only be the age you are right now, so if you don't make the change you want today, you may not get a tomorrow, so when will you?
Look in the mirror and pick one thing you like about yourself and say, “I love me for that.” Don’t focus on what you don’t have or hate yourself for having flaws, because no one else has what you have. Look instead at the parts of life that make you look forward to getting up in the morning, find your thing and do that!
Don't sweat the small stuff but embrace it, and if you have the power to make a change, make it – what are you waiting for! You are going to change! How your body is in your twenties is vastly different to the way it is in your thirties, forties and beyond, but change is a natural part of life, so learn to go with the change and not let the trends hold you back! Give yourself a break!
BU: And finally, we understand that you’re still seeking models for your fantastic body confidence project – so what’s the best way our readers can get involved?
Jazmine: You can contact me through email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Instagram, telling me why you want to be involved, before then sending me your image with a personal story or quote explaining what inspires your body confidence.
The photo should be taken in good light to be as detailed as possible, and avoid sending blurry images. If you wish to be nude, take the photo in a tasteful way to give you a sense of ownership. If you feel you are looking good in what you are wearing you can be fully dressed, but you must take the photo yourself and include your mobile phone in the reflection of the mirror. It’s also crucial that you like what you see; that is what should come across first and foremost, and that’s what I wish to paint.
Jazmine Saunders is a contemporary artist who graduated from the University of Chichester with a BA (Hons) degree in Fine Art. To see more of her painting, welding and body casting work - all of which covers the subjects of spirituality, mental health and body confidence - feel free to follow the artist over on Instagram @jazmine_saunders_art.